Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Dopico Cafarelli

This year, Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts is celebrating its 20th anniversary of delivering unparalleled education, skills, and experience to students from over thirty-five different countries. It is unbelievable to us to see how in two decades, thousands upon thousands of graduates have made their mark internationally in culinary arts or baking and pastry arts, continually making us proud. 

One such graduate is Andrea Dopico Cafarelli. She completed our Baking & Pastry Arts Professional Diploma Program at the top of her class, has lived in cities across the world, worked in multiple Michelin-star restaurants, competed in an international pastry event, and was named by Forbes as one of their Top 30 under 30 in Europe under the categories of the arts and immigrants. She has done all of this at the age of 25, and she's done it with a smile on her face, passion in her heart, and a heck of a skill set on her hands.

In spite of her whirlwind of a schedule, PICA was able to correspond with Andi about her experiences in the past, the present, and the future... and together we looked back at how PICA has set the foundation of what will doubtlessly be an illustrious career.

Last year's Valrhona chocolate competition was an amazing feat for you. You were the youngest - and only woman - to qualify and compete in the international final. How surreal was it to be in Brooklyn competing against some of the best and brightest in the world pastry arena?

ANDI: NYC was an incredible experience, that I have yet to fully process. The level of the competition was fierce, but there was also a sort of camaraderie between the chefs. I was very proud of the work that went on the preparation of this project, so when the moment arrived, I was just eager to share with everyone this dessert and petit four we worked so hard on.

What was the one thing you learned and value most out of the whole Valrhona experience?

ANDI: To me, the preparation (six months prior) was crucial. I feel that's where I learned more about myself personally and professionally. I got the chance to work with some of the best pastry chefs in Spain to make my - MY - ideas come true, which was absolutely surreal. But you've got to love the difficult parts in order to enjoy the prizes. Even though I did not win, doing a good job will always open doors for you, and at the end of the day, I left feeling proud of what I presented.

Think back to your student days for a moment. You were a Baking & Pastry student here at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. What was your first impression of PICA and why did you choose our Institute in the first place?

ANDI: I chose PICA because to me, no other school offered such a complete program. I remember the day I arrived like it was yesterday, and how I jokingly told my Admissions Director that I wanted my name on the Excellence Board. To this day, I can say that the best decision I've done in my life was to follow my dreams, and I couldn't have done it anywhere else.

You were an international student moving here. Tell me about your PICA experience during those six months. How did PICA prepare you for the "real world"?

ANDI: Also being new to the city, I feel, made me totally immerse in the experience. To me they were six life-changing months. I do feel PICA prepared me for the real world, because the three months in the advanced class gave me the confidence I needed to trust my skills when I started my first stage.

What are the top three elements you took from your time at PICA that you carry with you and use daily as a chef?

ANDI: 

  1. Work ethic. Easy. The team at PICA lead students by example, so this is not something they have to teach. I'm grateful to have had the impact of such a strong team in terms of values, because it without a doubt shaped my way of understanding this industry.
  2. Broad set of skills. PICA offers one of the most complete pastry programs out there.
  3. Opportunities. From a fundraising dinner to the Night at the Aquarium gala, there were always events to be a part of while studying at PICA. This got me in a mindset of going after opportunities even when I didn't feel 100% ready, and it hasn't changed since I left.

The world food scene is more interconnected and more international now than ever before. How did training in classic French Baking & Pastry Arts in Vancouver, Canada, shape you - a Venezuelan now working in Barcelona - and your personal style and cuisine?

ANDI: The more exposure you have to different cultures, the more you'll bring to a plate. When we travel, we bring with us our experiences, our roots, creating a melting pot of ideas that delivers the most unexpected results. It just gives you more perspective.

Your latest job is at Moments, a 2-Michelin Star restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona. Give us a run down of what an average work day is like.

ANDI: As the Pastry Chef at Moments, my team varies from two to four pastry cooks depending on the season. We are in charge of the cheese course, pre-dessert, four different desserts, and petit fours, which doesn't sound like much but all have an immense amount of detail. Our days are around 14 hours (split shift), so we arrive to the kitchen and organize the products (delivered daily) first thing in the morning, start with mise en place and any special orders (such as wedding cakes or dishes with allergies). By 12:30PM, we should do a half-hour lunch (this rarely happens), then come back for service at 1:00PM. When the last dessert goes out, we have a break, and come back around 7:30PM for dinner service...and do the rumba one more time before the day ends. It sounds exhausting, but it's also a LOT of fun.

Your boss at Moments, Chef Carme Ruscalleda, has seven Michelin stars between three restaurants - more than any other woman in the world. As a female chef, it must be incredible to have a role model like her, especially in a particularly male-dominated industry. What's the biggest lesson you've taken from her?

ANDI: Carme Ruscalleda is someone I never imagined working for. I studied and admired her! I was instantly inspired by how loyal she is to her ideas, her surroundings, and her culture. It took me around five months for my knees to stop trembling when she would walk in the kitchen. Her support has had an invaluable impact on me, and her wisdom and love for Catalan cuisine is so contagious that without even noticing, it felt natural for me to start incorporating those concepts and ingredients in my desserts.

Speaking of influential people, you've been chosen as one of Forbes' 30 under 30! Congratulations! That must've been a pretty mind-blowing announcement for you.

ANDI: Mind-blowing and completely unexpected! I feel mostly proud to be featured in the immigrants list in particular, because I know a lot of Venezuelans will see the news and say "hey, it's hard, but it can also be bright!"

Back here at PICA, we have prospective and current students who look at your experience as inspiration. As someone who was once in their shoes, what words of advice would you give to them as they carve their own path?

ANDI: I think you truly need only two things in order to succeed: work ethic and love for what you do.

We've just looked at the past and the present. Now looking ahead - what are your goals in the future?

ANDI: I've only worked in two-star restaurants so now the "normal" move would be to work at a three-star, yet that seems a little too logical to me. So, I'm about to start at another two-star restaurant with the main purpose of building the team and the menu to earn the mythical third star.

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Andi! One last thing... a few parting messages?

ANDI:

  • For PICA: I will never be able to thank you enough, because you saw in me a potential that I didn't know I had in me. You built my confidence to go after my dreams, so I owe all to you.
  • For its Current Students: The culinary industry is no funny business, yet you can work incredibly hard and also still have a LOT of fun. Ultimately, there's nothing more gratifying than being able to do what you love every single day.
  • For prospective students: Don't look further, you've just found the best school there is!

 

To check out Andrea's continuing pastry journey and career, visit her instagram: follow @andidopico!